X Corp, formerly Twitter, on Friday sued to strike down a new California law that requires large social platforms to post their content-moderation policies.
California's AB 587, signed last year, requires large social-media platforms to post information about their content moderation policies, and provide semiannual reports to the state attorney general about enforcement.
Those reports are supposed to include information about whether and how the companies define and handle material such as “hate speech” and “disinformation.”
X Corp. says the law is unconstitutional, arguing that the statute interferes with private companies' editorial judgments about how to handle speech that's protected by the First Amendment. In general, the First Amendment prohibits the government from attempting to suppress lawful speech -- including speech that's racist, sexist, or otherwise objectionable.
The California law “has both the purpose and likely effect of pressuring companies such as X Corp. to remove, demonetize, or deprioritize constitutionally-protected speech that the state deems undesirable or harmful, and places an unjustified and undue burden on social media companies such as X Corp.,” lawyers for the company, including First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams, allege in a complaint brought Friday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.
X Corp. says even though the state touts the law as a mere “transparency” measure, lawmakers' intention was to pressure platforms to suppress speech that's protected by the First Amendment.
“The legislative record is crystal clear that one of the main purposes of AB 587 -- if not the main purpose -- is to pressure social media companies to eliminate or minimize content that the government has deemed objectionable,” the complaint alleges.
The complaint also analogizes X Corp. to traditional media, arguing that it would “undoubtedly violate the First Amendment” to require newspapers to publish their standards for letters to the editor or opinions and make detailed disclosures about how many were accepted or rejected because they contained “hate speech” or “misinformation.”
The company adds that the law imposes “tremendously burdensome requirements on social media companies, requiring them to keep records about potentially hundreds of millions of content moderation decisions made on a daily basis.”
X Corp. is seeking a declaration that the law is unconstitutional, and an injunction prohibiting enforcement.